Sahel: The world is waiting for pictures of starving children

When I see the dynamics of the "international aid", I get thoroughly disgusted at times.

Take the Sahel hunger crisis: Less than a year ago, the international humanitarian community got heavily criticized for their lack of advanced warnings, and preventive responses in the Somalia drought crisis.

While the first clear signals of a major drought in the Horn of Africa came as early as August 2010, it was not until a year later, in July 2011, that the international community reacted. The relief efforts mainly started after the UN officially declared a famine in southern Somalia, and the drought – finally – hit the international press.
Way too late for an adequate response though, states the post-factum Oxfam/Save the Children report. With disastrous consequences: Of the 13 million people at risk, an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 people died. More half of them were children under five, according to the same report.

I would not necessarily agree with all findings in the Oxfam report, but it was clear that "something did not work". According to me, it was not a lack of early warning signals, and not a lack of response from the humanitarian organisations. Nor was it a lack appeals for funding. It was a lack of response from the international community to provide sufficient funding to avoid a food security crisis to turn into a full-scale famine.

Anyways, in fall 2011, the humanitarian organisations humbly bowed their heads, screamed "Mea Culpa" and put ash on their forehead. "We will do better", they promised.

Of course, we did not have to wait long... A few months later, the Sahel drought hit, and this time, the humanitarians did everything according to the books: early warning signals of drought detected (tick), clear assessments (tick), clear targeting (tick), funding alerts issued (tick), media alerted (tick).

Result: already deep into the hunger crisis, the drought appeal for the Sahel is only 39% funded - check out this updated financial reporting for the common appeal (Source: OCHA). Individual sector such as education and human rights only have pledged funding covering 7% and 5% respectively.

Why? Why do donors not come forward with sufficient funding? According to me, the answer is simple: There is a dire lack of pictures from starving children. Misery sells. And people in the aid business know that nothing sells as well as the picture of a starving child on the breast of crying, underfed, exhausted mother. With a dry desert landscape in the background. Insert dead cattle corpses if possible.

There have not been sufficient pictures of starving children in the Sahel, thus funding does not arrive, thus the needs can not be fulfilled, thus people will die, thus awful pictures will come, thus people will get angry, thus donors will donate.

And once again, we will have put a plaster on a wooden leg. Just in time to prepare for the next drought famine in East Africa again. L'histoire se rep├Ęte.


Anonymous,  27 May, 2012 15:41  

change is coming:

humanicontrarian 28 May, 2012 23:25  

Two questions come to mind. Why are there no pictures of starving children? One answer might be that while there is certainly a great deal of food insecurity across the Sahel, and there have been deep problems with the harvest or insecurity/displacement in parts, there really isn't that much more malnutrition or acute malnutrition than in previous years. This is not Somali famine, even if there are pockets, like in Chad, where the situation requires an emergency response.

Second question: If humanitarians know that there is going to be a crisis, and if they know that they aren't going to get money unless the crisis is highly mediatized, and if they know that many crises receive little if any media attention, why don't they put some of their millions aside for the inevitable non-mediatized crises? Why do they wait for the crisis and then pull the linings out of their pockets while pointing a finger at the international community?

Peter 29 May, 2012 07:49  

@humanicontrarian Tnx for the comment!

On point 1: For the Sahel, it is a bit difficult to measure in comparison with "previous years", as the previous Sahel hunger crisis was not even 2 years ago. I do agree that acute malnutrition or famine is not the case now, though conditons are not met, and the fear of a broader famine is there.
The question still raises: "what is the reason of the underfunding?", is it because there is no acute malnutrition or widespread famine? Is that what the world is waiting for, to provide more funding? That is basically the question of this post.

On point 2: Many organisations, as you know, work on "voluntary funding", meaning funding based on donations. No matter if funding is provided per project, or non-allocated, the financial regulations of many orgs don't allow to "set aside a saving, for when the need arises, but the funding does not"... Generally, if funding does not come for a particular humanitarian emergency, the orgs will not allocate much of their untied funds, if they have any... CERF is a mechanism that can cater for some of it, but that hardly suffices. Cash shortage in these times of economic crisis, also makes them very careful in where to allocate what amount..

That is my opinion, or course :-)

Anonymous,  03 June, 2012 22:54  

ok, your post is about not enough funds -yet- from the donors, because the same donors are not attracted by the situation since the lack of pics of children starving... Half Europe in the middle of the worst economical downturn doesn't mean anything to you? Now instead of complaining on how the ticket selling campaign to join the "humanitarian aid" so called, is managed so far... wouldn't be better to think through the waste of money behind the humanitarian world?? According to the media the Humanitarian aid is,these days, the 5th powerful economy. Other 40.000 organizations (some of those part of UN) chasing disasters to get money for their personal business: any noun again they offer some cheap food to the impaired people and bishbosh job is done. The pics offered to the media are certainly the ones with starving kids.. Surely are not the ones of the beautiful buildings where most of the humanitarian organizations are based with their headquarters. We have not to go far from where you live to see that. For not talking of the salaries of certain employers. When we talk of emergencies what arrive at destination? The breadcrumbs. And often those breadcrumbs are even rotten. Reason why we sometimes hear of a high toll of deaths due to diarrhea disease. Possibly
-a more discipline in managing all that money that has been already donated,
-less conferences around the world, with all these "THEORETICAL" beautiful minds going to, for pointless discussions with no results,
- real job done
would solve part of the problem.
Not an easy task, surely easier than putting the word END to the corruption and inefficiency of many organizations ruling the matters around AID and charity. On the top of that, should then, the UN and related agencies disappear (from 1st representative to the very last one) and replaced by an Institution with sense and decency... lots of wrong things in this world would improve in a tremendous way and head to the right direction.
That is my opinion too, of course ;-)

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